Works for me, but maybe not for thee

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When I first contemplated doing this blog I didn’t think I’d comment on other Internet discussions I came across. Good thing I didn’t make it a New Year’s resolution, or I’d have failed. (As to other New Year’s resolutions I made? Never mind.)

I probably still wouldn’t have commented on this, except that I’ve seen separate but similar discussions on the topic in two different woodworking forums. Without getting into specifics, in each case the poster has discussed a woodworking procedure that works for him, even though others might find the practice dangerous. I won’t quote the original posts nor the many responses (in at least a few cases, rules of common good taste prevent me), but suffice to say that the some of the feelings and opinions going back and forth were quite ugly. The bottom line in each case, though, is that the posters have discovered a method of work that, while not adhering to strict safety practices, works safely for them.

Have you ever seen Sam Maloof cutting armrests for his signature rockers freehand on a band saw? It’s enough to give you nightmares, and Sam will be the first to tell you never to do what he does. But the fact is that he’s been doing it that way his entire career, and has never hurt himself. (He has indeed hurt himself in the shop – he’s missing a couple fingertips, but the accident was not related to the band saw.) While I’d likely be asking my wife to tie my shoes for me for the rest of my life if I tried his method, Sam – unlike me – knows what he’s doing. If he were to change his way of cutting to something you or I would deem safer, something so foreign to the way he works, that in itself could very easily be an invitation to disaster.

I encourage every person working with woodworking equipment to be as safe as possible, and to follow the standard safety practices we all know by heart. But I understand perfectly how someone who is very, very good at what they do might not want to change a practice merely to avoid the derision of others.

Do I advocate dangerous practices with woodworking equipment? Never. But I would also hesitate to advocate a safer procedure that, for the practitioner not used to it, might be just as dangerous.

Till next time,

A.J.

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